1. The deeper question behind the Peace Cross.

By Charles Lane, The Washington Post, March 6, 2019, Pg. A23, Opinion

In the case of the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md., the ostensible issue for the Supreme Court is whether the Constitution permits a local government to maintain a 40-foot World War I memorial in the shape of the Latin cross on public property, or whether this violates the First Amendment clause prohibiting the establishment of an official religion. 

The deeper question is the long-term status of publicly supported religious symbolism — everything from the Peace Cross to “In God We Trust” on coins — in a nation that is rapidly becoming less and less religious. 

Across the industrialized world, people are losing interest in traditional religion. This process is most advanced in Europe; nearly 80 percent of Swedes described themselves as “not a religious person” or “a convinced atheist” in a WIN-Gallup International survey. However, the United States is catching up, or so most Americans suspect: Seventy-six percent told Gallup last year that religion is “losing influence” in this country. Twelve percent of Americans told Gallup they do not believe in God in 2017; only 1 percent dared admit that in 1944. And the proportion of those who “never” attend services — 28 percent in 2018 — has doubled in the past quarter-century. 


2. Suit challenges new abortion-referral rule.

By Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post, March 6, 2019, Pg. A4

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Medical Association have filed a lawsuit to block a new federal rule that would prohibit clinics participating in a program for low-income women from referring them for abortions. 

The groups argued in a filing in U.S. District Court in Oregon on Tuesday that the requirement would violate patients’ rights, force doctors to withhold information and harm the 4 million patients who rely on the Title X program for their health care. 

The lawsuit comes one day after a coalition of 21 state attorneys general and California — which serves a quarter of all the women who get services in the program — announced suits on similar grounds. 

The change has been celebrated by religious groups and others that oppose abortion. 

Planned Parenthood and other providers have said creating such a separation would result in abortion providers being shut out of the program. 


3. Behind the Scenes at the Vatican, I saw an apartment under renovation. The next day, the pope said he would resign.

By Masada Siegel, The Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2019, Pg. A13, Opinion

As with many historic places, the Vatican is the site of weighty and ordinary events. I’ve been lucky enough to see both.

Rome’s bustling energy disappeared when we set foot in the manicured gardens that Pope Nicholas III created in 1279. Wild parrots sang amid the vibrant flower beds as we admired an olive tree Israel had donated, a scaled-down replica of Lourdes, and a garden modeled after the one at the Palace of Versailles. Our Swiss Guard guide pointed out the 13th-century Tower of St. John, a private area in the gardens where the pope has often gone for quiet reflection.

I felt the Vatican’s solemnity when I visited again in 2013. This time I brought an American friend Amy. We toured the Swiss Guards’ armory and even held one of the halberds. On our way there, I noticed a building under construction. The Swiss Guard showing us around explained that some apartments inside were being restored.

I found out for whom the next day when it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI was to become the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.


4. State drops transgender complaint against cake baker.

By Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, March 6, 2019, Pg. A1

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission dropped its latest case against Christian cake shop owner Jack Phillips on Tuesday, handing him a second victory against state officials who have pursued him for six years over his refusal to create cakes for certain LGBT events.

Mr. Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, agreed in return to withdraw his lawsuit against the state, which he filed last year to stop the commission’s “harassment” after he was hit with a complaint for declining to make a blue-and-pink cake for a gender transition.

Kristen K. Waggoner, senior vice president of the Alliance Defending Freedom, called the outcome “great news for everyone.”

“This is the second time the state has launched a failed effort to prosecute him,” said Ms. Waggoner, who represents Mr. Phillips. “While it finally appears to be getting the message that its anti-religious hostility has no place in our country, the state’s decision to target Jack has cost him more than 6½ years of his life, forcing him to spend that time tied up in legal proceedings.

His case has come to symbolize the ongoing friction between anti-discrimination laws that encompass gender identity and the First Amendment rights of small-business owners who adhere to traditional religious beliefs.

“When I set out to build my dream of opening my own cake shop, combining my love for art and baking in a family business, I never imagined this chapter would be part of the Masterpiece Cakeshop story,” Mr. Phillips said. “I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop. I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs.”


5. A synod sneak peek, theology v. ideology, and the hour of the nuns.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, March 6, 2019

Beginning Thursday, the Vatican will be hosting an interfaith conference with the aim of mobilizing religious support for implementation of the United Nations’ “Sustainable Development Goals,” a set of 17 goals and 169 targets aimed at helping the world’s poor as well as the environment.

Sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the event’s title is “Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Listening to the Cry of the Earth and of the Poor,” and it’s set to take place March 7-9.

In addition to an all-star lineup from the Vatican, representatives of the American Jewish Committee, the Lutheran World Federation, and the Sunni Court of Saida in Lebanon, as well as exponents of Taoist, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, and African aboriginal perspectives will all take part.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who leads the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said at a Vatican news conference Tuesday that the aim of the conference isn’t to trace the development of the SDGs but to “marshal the moral force of religion behind their implementation.”


6. Our Dreyfus Case.

By George Weigel, First Things, March 6, 2019

In December 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus of the French Army was convicted of treason on the grounds that he had given military secrets to France’s mortal enemy, Germany. The charge was false; Dreyfus, a Jew, was framed. His trial was surrounded by mass hysteria and people with no grasp of the facts celebrated when Dreyfus was condemned to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in French Guiana, the horrors of which were vividly captured in the film Papillon.

The Dreyfus Affair roiled French politics for the better part of a generation, pitting “Dreyfusards” (mainly secularist and republican) against anti-Dreyfusards (primarily royalist and Catholic). The stench of anti-Semitism hung over it all; one Catholic who refused to succumb to that ancient psychosis was Pope Leo XIII, who told the editor of the Paris newspaper Figaro that Dreyfus’s suffering reminded him of Calvary. In 1906, the Dreyfusards saw their man vindicated, but the wounds in French society caused by the Dreyfus Affair remained open and festering long after Dreyfus returned to the army and served honorably in World War I. 

The conviction of Cardinal George Pell in December 2018 on charges of “historic sexual abuse” is this generation’s Dreyfus Affair. 

Ever since those charges were laid a year and a half ago, an atmosphere of public hysteria, fueled by secularist anti-Catholicism, has surrounded the case. That hysteria was intensified by the global Catholic sex abuse crisis, despite the fact that Cardinal Pell had been the leading Australian bishop fighting sex abuse. It is inconceivable that this Dreyfus-like public atmosphere did not have a distorting effect on Cardinal Pell’s two trials. Though the trials were held under an Australian media blackout, irrationality and venom, stoked by media bias, had already done their work. 

Cardinal Pell is now in jail awaiting sentencing, after which he will appeal his unwarranted and unjust conviction. Anyone who cares about justice, be he religious or not, must hope that the appellate panel of judges concludes that Pell’s conviction was what Australian law calls an “unsafe verdict”—one the jury could not rationally have reached on the evidence. Yet even if justice is done and Cardinal Pell is freed, Australia, and the rest of the West, is going to have to think long and hard about how this travesty could have happened—just as France did after the Dreyfus Affair. 


7. Pope Francis’ visit to Morocco to focus on migrants.

By Amira El Masaiti, The Associated Press, March 5, 2019

Morocco’s bishops said Tuesday they hope Pope Francis’ visit to their country will help shed light on the situation of migrants in the country that is a key transit point for those trying to reach Europe.

The Catholic church in Morocco mainly works with people from Sub-Saharan Africa, who make up 50 to 70 percent of churchgoers. Many are migrants illegally staying in the majority Muslim country living in poor conditions.

“We have had to prioritize to whom the aid goes first. Our church suffers from lack of funds. We can give some migrants food, plastic, covers, yet we can’t give them the respect they deserve. They are people not animals.” said Santiago Agrelo Martinez, Archbishop of Tangier.

He said he hopes that the pope’s visit on March 30-31 will help improve the situation.


8. New accusation of sex abuse against Chile’s Catholic church.

By Eva Vergara, The Associated Press, March 5, 2019

Chile’s Roman Catholic church, already the target of Vatican sanctions, was being shaken Tuesday by yet another allegation of priestly abuse and high-level cover-up.

“The case is terrible, unacceptable,” said Fernando Ramos, secretary-general of the Chilean bishop’s conference, at a news conference Tuesday ahead of his trip to the Vatican for a worldwide meeting of bishops on preventing sexual abuse.

The Santiago archbishopric acknowledged in a statement that it had received a complaint against the priest, Rigoberto Rivera, in the summer of 2015 and said he had been forbidden to celebrate public Mass since last year. His attorney, Sandra Pinto, denied the allegations.

A series of earlier cases investigated by the Vatican led Pope Francis last year to request all 31 active bishops to offer their resignations, complaining of “a culture of abuse and cover-up.”


9. Nigerian Archbishop Urges International Effort to End Religious Extremism.

By Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register, March 5, 2019

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, spoke at the United Nations March 1 to urge the international community to confront the spread of religious extremism and promote the freedom and rights of all believers, including African Christians killed and persecuted for their faith and communal affiliation.

The archbishop also participated in a panel discussion on religious freedom hosted by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See.

About half of Nigeria’s population is Christian, an estimated 80 million people, and they are dominant in the south and central regions of the country. Islam is the majority religion in the north, and Christians have faced growing violence there since the passage of sharia (Islamic) law in 2002.

At the U.N. and in Nigeria, the archbishop has spoken out against anti-Christian discrimination in government employment and related fields. And last year, he called on the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to send more security personnel and equipment to end killings and destruction of property in Plateau, where nomadic herdsman, who are Muslim, have attacked and killed Christian farmers.

Archbishop Kaigama spoke with Register senior editor Joan Frawley DesmondMarch 3 about the rise of Boko Haram, the Islamic terrorist group that has killed an estimated 28,000 people and forced 3.8 million to flee their homes. He outlined  his own efforts to advance religious freedom and genuine dialogue between Christians and Muslims.